Month: March 2016

Flying in the 1980s

Our multi-stop trip through each decade of the aviation industry is approaching its next stop. Now that we’ve lovingly reflected back upon the groundbreaking 1930s, the explosive 1940s, the golden 1950s, the swinging 1960s and the positively intoxicated 1970s of the commercial airline industry, let’s touch down once more in an age where celebrities flew on a dedicated airline and in-flight service made a questionable detour. This is what it was like to fly in the 1980s.

Airplane!

“Standby…for the most extraordinary chain of events ever swept up in to high adventure!” The decade in aviation lifted off with an uproarious satire of the magic of flying that skewered the various industry tropes that had begun popping up in movies and television. The slapstick comedy gave the definitive take on the in-flight medical emergency, the paradox of the smoking section, and the chatty passenger seated next to you. The film was an elaborate exaggeration of the travails of air travel that is remembered as one of the best comedies of all time. And as such, it is impossible to talk about air travel in the ’80s, or any time, without also mentioning Airplane!

Physics-defying smoking sections

After decades of permissible smoking aboard flights, airlines finally began to wise up to the fact that not every passenger wished to emerge from their cross-country flight reeking of tobacco. And thus, the illusion of a non-smoking option was born in the form of the cabin’s non-smoking and smoking sections. And while airlines could instruct passengers to sit in the designated areas, the laws of physics unfortunately prevented any ability to also instruct the smoke itself to remain in its proper vicinity.

Smoking was a controversial subject in the ’80s, leading to both an industry-wide ban and subsequent unbanning of in-flight smoking in 1984 alone. President of the FAA-precedingCivil Aeronautics Board Dan McKinnon said of the quick policy reversal, “Philosophically, I think nonsmokers have rights, but it comes into market conflict with practicalities and the realities of life.” Such a frank remark about industry influence on something so widely understood now to be a health hazard is difficult to imagine in today’s instantly sharable, social media-saturated world.

In-flight tours of the flight deck

For thousands of ’80s babies — myself included — a first flight aboard a commercial airplane wasn’t complete until a flight attendant whisked you up front to the cockpit for an introduction to the captain and a tour of the buzzing and whirring machinery. Inviting children, or people at all, into the area of the plane from which the pilot was actively controlling the aircraft sounds like something out of a fantasy novel in our post-9/11 world, and yet thousands of grateful fliers share memories of the experience. Thankfully, pilots or flight attendants would routinely pin commemorative wings upon kids to mark their trip up front, proving that the practice wasn’t just some fever dream we all collectively imagined.

Modern day pro-tip: Many airlines still offer wings for children on their first flights. Ask your FA if any are tucked away onboard somewhere.

Dedicated airlines for the people … and the very important people

Each of the decades prior had airlines synonymous with their respective eras. TWA and Pan Am are practically synonymous with the 1950s, Aeroflot was ascendant in the ’60s, and the so-called “route of the aristocrats”, Southern Airways practically screams70s. A pair of airlines kept up the tradition in the ’80s, but via entirely different business plans.

People Express was the dominant low-cost carrier of the decade, albeit one fondly remembered for a welcome twist on the LCC business model that we’ve come to expect today. People Express paired their ultra-low prices with phenomenal first-class customer service that people still rave about to this very day. Talk about making a lasting impression!

At the other end of the price spectrum, but no less synonymous with the over-the-top ’80s,MGM Grand Air built a fan-favorite airline essentially around a single route between Los Angeles and New York. Billionaire playboy Kirk Kerkorian purchased a small, six-plane fleet in the mid-’80s, and gutted their 110 seat cabins, before retrofitting them with just 33 ultra-posh loungers. A-list celebrities and studio executives instantly flocked to the new airline. Madonna, Diana Ross, Tom Cruise, Michael Jackson, Elizabeth Taylor, Julia Roberts andRobert De Niro were frequently spotted indulging in silver trays of caviar aboard what became the most exclusive nightclub in the world — even on the morning flights.

While neither airline ultimately survived the spate of mergers, acquisitions and bankruptciesthat pared the airline industry down to the handful of remaining players that exist today, both People Express and MGM Grand Air left a lasting impression on the industry.

Delays before the age of transparency

Without cellphones, there was no cellphone waiting area. And that was the least of the infrastructural absences that today’s travelers might find difficult to maneuver. No cellphones also meant no flight-tracking apps. Expectant family and friends would simply show up to the airport at the posted time of arrival. And if the plane wasn’t there — well then it simply wasn’t there, and thus the potentially hours-long waiting game began.

Security? What security?

Amidst the modern age’s labyrinthine airport check-in process, it can be difficult to even imagine a time when most of today’s airport security apparatus didn’t exist. In the 1980s, not only were passengers relatively free to roam about the airport after briefly passing through a metal detector — with their shoes on — but family and friends were welcome to join departing passengers all the way up to the departure gate. Likewise, many a weary traveler was greeted the second they stepped off the plane by adoring loved ones, who were permitted to walk all the way through the airport without a ticket to make a proper welcome. The specter of threatening liquids, body scanner radiation and underwear bombs was still more than a decade away.

While we may rue the devolution of in-flight meals, seat pitch, and loss of airline options when booking, the starkest contrast between flying in the 1980s and today is without a doubt the loss of airport innocence that we unfortunately experienced following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

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Packing apps take a load off of travelers

When you’re traveling for business, picking, packing and toting your clothes may at times feel like a second job. But a host of apps are trying to make life on the road a bit easier.

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From online valets to services that essentially offer laundry to-go, corporate trekkers can digitally outsource much of the drudgery around their work attire.

“It’s about the ability to go on a trip … and not worry about anything other than your business,’’ says Bill Rinehart, CEO and founder of DUFL, a “virtual valet’’ that will sort, clean and ship your wardrobe to and from wherever you’re traveling for work.

Customers download the DUFL app, then fill a bag the company sends to their home or office with their various business outfits. DUFL will clean, inventory and photograph all the items. Then, “from that day forward, your closet is the app on your phone,’’ Rinehart says. Customers input their business destination, the hotel where they’re staying and the dates, and the suitcase arrives the same day they do.

At the end of your stay, you can drop your bag off at the front desk, where FedEx will pick it up and ship it back to the DUFL warehouse where the clothing is cleaned and readied for your next trip.

The cost is $9.95 per month plus a $99 fee per trip, which covers shipping and cleaning. Since launching in May 2015, Rinehart says, thousands of customers have registered for the service, with the typical male client storing 50 items in his closet, and the typical woman having 150.

“When you think about someone spending the vast majority of time on the road, it’s incredibly time-consuming and stressful,” he says, adding that customers will sometimes order items from Amazon or a department store and have the items shipped right to DUFL.

Washio, which started in March 2013, has customers who use its services while traveling for work, as well as when they return home. .

With operations in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington, Chicago, Boston and Oakland, business travelers can request a laundry pickup on Washio’s website or mobile app. The clothes are then cleaned and returned to your doorstep.

“While traveling for business, most hotel dry-cleaning services are very expensive,’’ says Washio CEO and founder Jordan Metzner in explaining the appeal of his service to business travelers.

Meanwhile, those heading out on a corporate trip can get their shirts boxed, for easy packing. And when faced with a suitcase full of dirty clothes upon their return, they can simply send the items off with Washio and they “have clean clothes to take on their next trip,’’ Metzner says.

Ben Gillenwater, CEO of his own software company, initially built his PackPoint app for himself.

“I’ve been a business traveler for about eight years,’’ says Gillenwater, who is CEO of his own software company. “I was always forgetting something … like my passport, or my toiletries or even my dress shoes for work.’’

Now PackPoint practically does the packing for him. The app tells users what they need to take depending on their destination and planned activities, right down to reminding them to take an umbrella because it’s likely to rain. And as you pack, you can check off each item within the app.

“You can tell it if you will have access to laundry and if you want to repeat basics, like wear a shirt more than once,’’ he says. A paid version of the app, which costs $2.99, can be customized — you can tell it, for instance, to never remind you to pack contact lenses since you don’t wear them. And if you have a TripIt account where you assemble all your travel arrangements, PackPoint will sync with it and automatically create packing lists based on your itineraries.

Stylebook, an app launched in October 2009,  isn’t just for those honing their inner fashionista. The app, which has a one-time cost of $3.99, is “perfect for business travelers,’’ says co-founder Jess Atkins, “because they can plan what to pack whenever they have a free moment.’’

Users input pictures of their clothes and can utilize the app’s calendar to plan their outfits. The app also allows them to create a packing list and even post notes to remind themselves where they wore various ensembles.

“With airline baggage fees at an all-time high, suitcase space is precious, and Stylebook can help you bring only items that you need,’’ says Atkins.

Apps like these can be real time savers, some users say.

Debbe McCall,  a business owner and patient advocate and researcher, uses DUFL one to four times a month.

“I save hours not packing, not schlepping, not looking for overhead space, not wishing I had brought an extra outfit or pair of shoes,’’ McCall, who lives in Temecula Valley, Calif., said in an email. “And (when) I get home, I am really home, not almost home or home after I unpack, do laundry or run to the dry cleaners.’’

“Imagine walking through security and onto a plane with only a handbag, iPad, phone and meds,’’ she adds. “Traveling is fun again.’’

Boeing designs self-sterilizing jet bathrooms

Boeing’s self-cleaning lavatory kills germs with UV light after each use.Video provided by NewsyNewslook

NEW YORK (AP) — Boeing engineers think they have a solution for smelly, grimy airplane bathrooms: ultraviolet light.

The aircraft manufacturer has filed a patent for a self-cleaning lavatory that disinfects all surfaces in just three seconds.

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Many passengers would welcome more sanitary airplane bathrooms, but they may have to wait a while to benefit from Boeing’s technology.

The typical domestic plane has just three bathrooms — one in first class and two at the rear. That number hasn’t changed in decades even as airlines cram more rows onto planes and fill an ever-higher percentage of those seats. And with less time on the ground, those bathrooms aren’t always cleaned to the fullest, despite the increased use.

Boeing’s new bathroom design uses ultraviolet light to clean the bathroom between uses. The Chicago-based company says the system will take three seconds to clean the toilet seat, sink and countertop in an unoccupied lavatory. Boeing plans to use Far UV, which it says is different than the waves used in tanning beds and is not harmful to people.

The design also incorporates a hands-free faucet, soap dispenser, trash flap, toilet lid and seat and a hand dryer to decrease the number of surfaces passengers have to touch. Boeing says it is also working on a hands-free door latch.

Don’t expect to see any of this on planes soon. Boeing says it still needs to study the idea further, including designing a system to lift and close the toilet seat by itself so that all surfaces are exposed during the cleaning cycle. Once offered to airlines, it could take years for carriers to update their fleet with the new bathrooms.

Six Flags introducing first VR roller coasters in the US

Theme park operator Six Flags Entertainment has partnered with Samsung to bring the first virtual reality powered roller coaster rides to the US.
Six Flags has appointed Samsung as its ‘official technology partner’ and will debut VR-enabled rides at Six Flags parks from the spring.
Samsung’s Gear VR headsets allow riders to sync the real world movements of the coasters with VR imagery for a more immersive experience.
“This remarkable technology is a definite game-changer for theme park rides and represents everything our brand stands for – delivering the most thrilling and innovative rides and attractions in the world,” said John Duffey, Six Flags president and CEO.
“With the addition of these virtual reality coasters, Six Flags will be introducing more than double the number of new coasters and rides than we did in 2015, and more than any year in the last decade. Innovation is part of our DNA, and news in every park every year is driving higher guest satisfaction and building strong momentum for our company.”
Six Flags season pass holders will get early access this month with preview rides and then it will be rolled out on rides such as the 60mph New Revolution and Superman at parks around the country.
“What makes this partnership so compelling for consumers and the broader tech industry alike is that both companies are committed to pushing the boundaries of what’s possible – and bringing a VR coaster to life is certainly a new and thrilling proposition,” said Marc Mathieu, chief marketing officer at Samsung Electronics America.
Samsung’s Gear VR is also behind the new Galactica VR roller coaster at Alton Towers in the UK which launches next month.

Airlines line up for rights to fly to Cuba

U.S. carriers appear set for a dogfight over newly opened flight rights to Havana, but their interest in other Cuban destinations appears to be lukewarm.

Airlines had until the close of business on Wednesday to apply to the U.S. Department of Transportation for the U.S.-Cuba flight rights. That comes after a February agreementpaved the way for the first regularly scheduled, non-charter passenger airline flights between the nations in five decades. The pact gives U.S. airlines access to 110 daily flights to Cuba.

But only 20 of those will be allowed to go to Havana, Cuba’s capital and most high-profile destination. And those routes are in high demand.

LISTHere are the Cuba routes U.S. airlines want

American Airlines alone has requested 14 daily flights to Havana plus two additional weekend-only flights. That’s more than any other carrier. Close behind was JetBlue, which proposed 12. Southwest had proposed nine. Delta and small regional carrier Silver Airways each requested the equivalent of five daily round-trip flights to Havana.

Alaska Airlines, which was one of the first to go public with its Cuba plans, proposed two daily round-trip flights between Havana and Los Angeles. Spirit hadn’t yet revealed its plans, though it was expected to request flights to Havana, too.

One surprisingly robust bid for Havana flights came from Denver-based low-cost carrier Frontier, which is seeking rights to fly three daily round-trip flights to Havana from Miami and one from Denver.

All that indicated a dogfight for Havana flight routes. Combined, U.S. carriers had collectively applied for the equivalent of at least 51 daily flights to Havana. Only 20 are on the table.

Beyond the 20 allocated for Havana, there will be 10 daily flights allowed on routes to each of Cuba’s nine other international airports.

Nearly all of the big carriers applying for Havana flights also sought rights on routes to some of those cities, as well. United and Alaska were among the exceptions, seeking only rights to fly to Havana.

United proposed most of its Havana service would come from its hub at Newark Liberty, where it hopes to operate one daily round-trip flight to Havana with a second daily flight on Saturdays. United would fly only one flight a week to Havana from three other cities, proposing one round trip each Saturday from Chicago O’Hare, Houston Bush Intercontinental and Washington Dulles.

“This is a historic moment for our company, our employees and, most importantly, our customers,” United CEO Oscar Munoz said in a statement. “We want to be the first choice for passengers traveling between the U.S. and Cuba. We’re able to offer customers the best access, convenience and connections to and from Havana through our industry-leading global route network, and we’re excited to compete for this important service.”

Before U.S. airlines can begin their flights, their route authority applications must win approval by the DOT. The airlines then must reach service agreements with Cuban aviation authorities. It’s thought that flights under the agreement could begin by this fall.

This country has the world’s best passport (and it’s not the U.S.)

When German citizens say auf Wiedersehen to Germany, they can use their passports for visa-free travel to 177 other countries and territories, making it the most powerful passport in the world. Henley & Partners, a London-based residence and citizenship planning firm, has published its annual Visa Restrictions Index and, for the third straight year, Germany is on top, with visa-free access to 177 out of a possible 218 countries.

After Germany’s burgundy-colored passports, Sweden’s identically hued book is in second place, with visa-free travel to 176 countries. Finland, France, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom are tied for third with 175 countries on their visa-free itineraries. The United States is in fourth place — along with Belgium, Denmark and the Netherlands — with access to 174 countries.

Henley & Partners said that the only changes to its inaccurately named Top 10 (which actually includes 28 different countries) was the appearance of Hungary (tied for 10th) and the loss of Malaysia, which slipped to 12th place.

“No country dropped more than three positions, indicating that overall, visa-free access is improving around the world,” Henley & Partners said in a statement.

Several countries, however, did surge to a much-improved ranking this year, including including Palau, which jumped 20 spots; Colombia, which climbed 25; and tiny Timor Leste, which moved from 89th in 2015 to 57th this year.

On the more dismal side of the spectrum, the bottom four countries were unchanged from last year: Somalia, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan are, according to the Index, “the worst passports in the world.” Afghanistan has been ranked as the worst passport every year since 2010; an Afghani passport only allows visa-free travel to 25 countries.

This is the 11th year that Henley & Partners has published its Visa Restrictions Index, which it produces in partnership with the International Air Transport Association (IATA). “Visa requirements are an expression of the relationships between individual nations, and generally reflect the relations and status of a country within the international community of nations,” Henley & Partners explains.